The GOP-led state House of Representatives’ version of the budget bill is likely to undergo substantial revisions in the Senate.
As it should.
That is because the House bill imposes GOP priorities that will result in real cuts to health and youth programs, putting full funding for TOPS tuition waivers as the state’s first priority, whatever the consequences.
And there will be consequences, even if you allow for some exaggeration on the part of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration. An arbitrary decision cuts state spending to 97.5 percent of the amount available, putting college tuition ahead of health care, and clamping a lock on filling vacant positions. If a nurse or a prison guard or some other state employee leaves a job, typically they need to be replaced, or services suffer: “How do you believe that the services for these people are provided if not through the people that work at these agencies?” asked Rep. Walt Leger of New Orleans, the House's highest-ranking Democrat.
The House budget declares a significant set-aside of revenues in a way that is likely to result in agencies being unable to meet their federal mandates on big-ticket items like Medicaid health insurance and supervision of neglected and abused children.
Louisiana could lose money, not save it, if the worst predictions of the agency heads come true. It is telling is that the GOP leadership rushed this set-aside mandate through without hearing from the responsible agency heads.
Facing budgetary reality is not a strong point for either party in the State Capitol, after nearly a decade of blown budgets and mid-year budget cuts. But the GOP set-aside plan, intended to sequester cash to avoid another mid-year cut, might well provoke more budget cuts if federal aid falls because Louisiana does not meet the requirements of Medicaid or a myriad other federal regulations.
The feds’ checks are called “matching funds” for a reason. Our poorest and most vulnerable people are likely to feel the real-world consequences if the state can't meet its match for federal programs.
Among other problems, the Republican head of the Division of Administration, Jay Dardenne, said the new proposal could result in budgetary chaos, with agencies having to adjust constantly their spending with hundreds of requests at monthly meetings of the Legislature’s interim budget committee. Dardenne knows what he’s talking about, as a former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; legislators won’t like to face hundreds of pages of budget adjustments on a routine basis.
What is at the root of the budget debate? A GOP faction that is adamantly opposed to raising taxes, and wants to talk about anything but that horror — even as many of the members were willing executioners of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s agenda for eight years, reducing revenues without regard to the payment of the state’s obligations.
Legislators are used to budget gimmicks to avoid paying the bills. This is another budget gimmick not fully thought through. We suggest that the Senate step up to the plate and change the budget to reflect common sense.
The state House has agreed to a $29 billion spending plan for the coming year that would fully-fund TOPS scholarships but doesn't fund the state agencies that oversee health and social services to the levels that leaders say is needed to fund critical programs.